I have rarely felt envy in dancing. I love watching people who can dance better than I. But the other night I felt envious of a guy dancing with a tanguera I know pretty well. I saw the person I practice with dancing with a new guy in town and she was smiling with him in a way that she rarely does with our dancing. We were not connecting at all that night. It was really terrible in fact. Partly, the floor was too slippery for the leather shoes I had on. But it only got worse.
Finally, I made a comment that we were not connecting well that night. She said that it was because I was too interested in my own steps rather than hers. The most hurtful critiques are the ones we fear are true. Really, am I that bad? Maybe, but it is also a slap in the face to have to take the full blame for the disconnect.
I felt that she had broken a sacred agreement and an important element of tango etiquette not to critique your partner on the dance floor. I had, of course, opened the door by commenting on OUR dancing that night.
I was ready to walk out the door. I was fuming and mad at myself for being envious of him doing such a great job of making her smile so wonderfully. It seemed that she had been frowning the whole time with my dancing that night.
I did not leave because I had so many friends I wanted to dance with. My dances with them were wonderful. I was smiling a lot. Finally, I danced with a short Chilean woman who hardy was getting to dance at all that night. The dance with her was absolutely wonderful. I hope my practice partner wasn't watching. I was smiling just too much! But when I did start dancing with my practice partner, we were once again tuned and we were both smiling.
What happened that night?
The next day, I read an article, called "Misunderstanding the affective consequences of everyday social interactions: The hidden benefits of putting one's best face forward" by Dunn, Elizabeth W., et al. in the American Psychology Association's PsychNet online resource.
The authors would have done better research if they had been tango dancers. Tango shows us that we humans do better with our close relationship when we interact with strangers. Perhaps this psychological phenomenon is similar to biological in-breeding. Once we become "familiar" (from the word family), dancing can become stale without outside influences. On a social level, people learn a lot about themselves and their own creativity by having interactions with strangers. However, when people are asked to rate the enjoyment of an interaction with a close person versus "that stranger over there" the participants in a psychological study found that they over-rated the enjoyment they would have with someone they know, and under-rated the enjoyment they thought they would have with a total stranger.
I think that people who really love tango and are couples or practice partners should take note. It is good for your dancing, your relationship and your dance progress to dance with others. The thing we learn the most is that what works with strangers, works with those closer to us. If we treat friends and family with as much attentiveness and simple respect, great things happen. When the researchers instructed people to put as much effort into their close partner as they did with the stranger, the interactions with the partner was much better.
Since that time, we talked about the disconnect, and I found out that a milonga she feels I try out too many things. I told her that I was afraid I was boring her. She just wanted to get in a groove and enjoy things that are know to work, and then apply the millions of variations of these simple elements to the particular orchestra being played in that tanda.
Then last night something very remarkable happened. The music was playing all by itself at the practica when I came in and no one was there. I danced by myself. It was euphoric. She arrived and we danced. We had classes we wanted to review, but we just danced and danced and danced. I cannot tell you which cloud we danced on, but it was past cloud nine. Others came and all tandas I had were this way last night -- absolutely heaven on earth.
No -- even better than heaven on earth. The angels were envious as they watched that night.
I turned and told one of the angles. "There is no reason to be envious. You might want to try what I did. Dance with a stranger."
Note: Dunn was co-other with Biesanz, Jeremy C.; Human, Lauren J.; Finn, Stephanie.
Source of reference with link to the original work from the American Psychology Association's:
Photo Credit: Woman smiling http://www.helltodanaw.com/tag/dating/